Born in Porterville, California, the Eckles family moved to Santa Barbara during the 1930s. Rex was a member of the ROTC program at Santa Barbara high school and won a saber award for close order drills. He graduated in 1937, and afterwards worked part time and enrolled at University of California at Davis, and studied agriculture. After running out of tuition money, he next enrolled at Santa Barbara State College and continued his studies until his junior year.
USAAF & Wedding
Eckles enlisted in the US Army and graduated as part of flight school class 42E during May 1942. Prior to shipping out to the Pacific at San Francisco, he married Mary Jane Boggs, who had also attended Santa Barbara State College. The two were married for only a few days before he was shipped overseas to the Pacific.
Assigned to the 5th Bombardment Group, 23rd Bombardment Squadron as a B-17 pilot, Eckles flew combat in the South Pacific. He was killed on July 19, 1943 piloting B-17E "Tokyo Taxi" 41-9153. Eckles earned the Air Medal and Purple Heart.
Diary of Captain Anthony Dean Lucas (piloting B-17E 41-9222):
"July 19, 1943:
Nine ships of our squadron took off around midnight to bomb Kahili airfield. All my bombs hit on the target from 14,000 feet. While on the beginning of my bombing run I saw one of my best friends go down in flames [B-17E "Tokyo Taxi" 41-9153]. Shot down by Jap night fighters. He was Lt., soon to be Capt., Eckles, of Santa Barbara. We had been together for the past year in the 23rd. We were both [flight school class] 42E men. His was a real crew, with some swell men, co-pilot, Lt. Jones, a classmate of my co-pilot, Bomb. Lt. Knop, Nav. Lt. Fox, Enj., Sgt. Kelly, Ass. Enj., Sgt. Greene, Radio, Sgt. Davis, Hill and a couple of other men. I'm going to ask if I can take Rex's personal things home to his folks, and one day wife in Santa Barbara. During this same mission I was held in the search lights for six or seven minutes and I imagine the night fighters were getting pretty close."
After his death, the Army never returned his personal effects, so any diary or personal records are unavailable. His widow remarried Vernon Silva and both lived in California.
Rex Eckles and his crew are memorialized on the tablets of the missing at Manila American Cemetery.
On July 19, 2009, sixty-sixth anniversary of his loss, Rex's brother Howard Eckles got a call from Gwendolyn Waters. She informed him that her father, Anthony Dean Lucas had witnessed his B-17 being shot down, and her brother was named in honor of Rex. The two families met in 2009.
Thanks to Howard Eckles (brother) and Gwendolyn Waters for additional information.